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Lovers in science

forsburg at molbiol.ox.ac.uk forsburg at molbiol.ox.ac.uk
Mon May 24 14:39:34 EST 1993

In article <1tqpcnINNjdi at MINERVA.CIS.YALE.EDU>, smith-una at yale.edu (Una Smith) writes:
> Susan Forsburg <forsburg at molbiol.ox.ac.uk> wrote:
>>...What I meant by avoiding direct professional contact was along
>>the lines of avoiding the _obvious_ appearance of conflict of interest. 
>>Ie, stay in the same dept, but not in the same lab...  
> Avoid the appearance?  Meaning it should be kept secret (or discrete)? 
> Given that people in academic departments always seem to know an
> astonishing amount about the personal lives of others there, it seems
> both pointless and (often) destructive to keep up the pretense that
> it's only business.
> I'm all for discrete behavior, but how about a little more honesty?

I wasnt meaning to suggest dishonesty, actually--that's why I made the
suggestion of staying in the dept but not in the lab.   
To make it explicit,  if X is a student in Y's lab and they are 
having an affair, it reflects badly on both of them.
Everyone will assume Y is showing favouritism, even if Y isnt, 
hence a strong  appearence of conflict of interest which is
bad for both their reputations.  Moreover it is destructive
for the rest of the people in the lab.  If X is a student in A's lab
and having an affiar with Y who works down the hall, it is less 
of a problem, less lurid for the department gossips 
(who will know all about it anyway despite all attempts at 
discretion), and the conflict  between the personal and the 
professional interests of X and Y is reduced.   Potential 
conflicts can never be completely eradicated but 
they might  be minimised.

Someone ought to warn X, however, that even if the direct power
relationship between them is distanced, these things never turn
out well, and the vulnerable junior is likely to suffer most, as
Steve Modena's recollection shows. 

> I think it's very difficult for someone to be both a mentor and a lover,
> since one's own personal interest in the student may tend in directions
> that are not the best for the student.

As for mentor AND lover--I'd say that's a REAL conflict of
interest, and precisely the sort of no-win situation I was 
labouring against.

This is one of the reasons, however, that I was careful in an
earlier post to draw a distinction between MENTOR and ADVISOR
(or, in more appropriate UK terms, SUPERVISOR).  
I think this sort of sexualisation is fundamentally incompatible with
what _I_ think of as mentoring--no Svengalis need apply. ;-)

forsburg at molbiol.ox.ac.uk

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